Democratic state lawmakers have introduced legislation that would guarantee an individual’s right to an abortion as the U.S. Supreme Court weighs cases that would allow states to eliminate access to the procedure almost completely.
Sen. Lori Berman of Lantana and Rep. Ben Diamond of St. Petersburg filed bills last week (HB 709/SB 1036) that would bar any individual, state or local governments from interfering with the right to get an abortion. The identical bills also have a mechanism that allows legal action against any individual or any entity standing in the way of someone’s right to choose this health care.
“I think it’s really important that we take proactive steps to make sure women’s reproductive rights are protected,” Berman said, noting that her bill gives the same protection to the decision to choose or refuse contraception or sterilization. “The bill says that your reproductive rights are your health, privacy and equality.”
The legislation, called “Reproductive Health Care Rights,” is a counterpoint to another bill (HB 167) which would prohibit abortion after a heartbeat is detected. Berman said her legislation was not prompted by Republican Rep. Webster Barney’s bill so much as the current cases now in front of the U.S. Supreme Court.
The highest court in the country is hearing arguments this week about a Mississippi law that prohibits abortions after 15 weeks of gestation. The court is also expected to issue a ruling on the Texas “heartbeat” abortion ban that prohibits abortion after six weeks’ gestation.
Before the U.S. Supreme Court was seated with President Donald Trump’s appointments, the Roe v. Wade ruling was allowed to stand as to the timing of an abortion. That 48-year-old ruling makes abortion legal until a fetus can survive outside the womb, which is roughly 24 weeks’ gestation.
Barney’s bill is not the first time that state lawmakers have tried to roll back abortion rights. Those efforts have failed largely because Florida’s state constitution has an even stronger right to privacy than the U.S. Constitution, Berman said.
“Every natural person has the right to be let alone and free from governmental intrusion into the person’s private life except as otherwise provided herein,” Florida’s constitution says.
But that right can be subject to judges’ interpretations.
Laura Goodhue, executive director of the Florida Alliance of Planned Parenthood Affiliates, said it’s been heartening to see bills like Berman’s. She also applauded city and county ordinances asserting that abortion is a right.
She said she fears how abortion rights from the courts’ perspective appear to be weakening. She pointed to how Gov. Ron DeSantis has been shaping the courts with more conservative judges and nominating panel members, she said.
A law requiring pregnant women to wait 24 hours before terminating a pregnancy has been blocked for now, “but the state is appealing it,” Goodhue said. “They (Florida Supreme Court judges) might not apply Florida’s strict right of privacy to abortions. Although there is a strong history of that.”
Berman said she doesn’t expect her bill will actually get a hearing on the floor, but she felt it was important to introduce the legislation anyway.
“Because I think we need to be having these discussions,” she said.